Monday, December 21, 2009

The Vilified Tradition, Ameliorated: Sour Cream Fruitcake


I'm not someone who usually follows the weather too closely. Actually, to be more accurate, I should say that I don't follow the weather reports too closely. For about 49 weeks of the year, waking up in the morning and sticking a hand out the window works for me.

But even I saw this past weekend's snow storm coming, and so, with the Pasta Burner by my side, we headed off to stock up on all sorts of necessary provisions to wait out the storm. While we did get the important things (okay, ice cream), I also thought two days of being snowed in would provide the perfect opportunity to launch into a significant baking project.

You see, I've always wanted to make a traditional English Fruitcake, but I'd never gone through with it. However, with Christmas just around the corner, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. To be honest, while somewhat time-consuming, it's not particularly difficult to pull off, makes your house fantastic, and tastes pretty great. Let's get right to it.

Sour Cream Fruitcake
Makes 1 Cake & 4 cupcakes

1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1.5 teaspoons Baking Powder
12 oz. Sour Cream

1/2 cup chopped Dried Dates and/or Figs
1/2 cups Zante Currants
1 pound Glåce (candied) Fruit and Citron
1 cup chopped Pecans
About 1 and 1/4 cups Dark Rum (divided into 1/4 Cup, 3/4 Cup, and more for basting)

2 cups all-purpose Flour (divided into 1/2 Cup and 1 1/2 Cups)
1/2 cup Butter, room temperature
1/2 cup White Granulated Sugar
1/2 cup Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Vanilla Extract
2 Eggs
Zest of one very large Orange
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt

2 Tablespoons Vegetable Oil or Butter (for greasing the paper/pan)
Parchment Paper

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees F. Mix your Sour Cream and your Baking Powder together in a bowl. Within a matter of minutes, it will begin to bubble up and become foamy. When this occurs, gently stir in your Baking Soda.

Place your Glåce Fruit (this should be found in a container in your Supermarket's baking aisle) into a very large bowl.

Chop up your Dates, Figs, Currants, and Pecans, and add these to the bowl as well.

Pour 1/4 Cup of the Dark Rum over your mixed fruits and nuts.

[Editor's Note: Brandy is more traditional for fruit cakes, but I really enjoy the sweet, mellow, molasses-laden notes of a good Dark Rum here. Do as pleases you.]

Stir well to coat, and let sit for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, take your room-temperature Butter, White Granulated Sugar and Brown Sugar and blend them together using a hand mixer.

As the mixture begins to come together, add in your two eggs, vanilla extract, and salt.

Whip until the mixture begins to come together. Next, grate in your orange zest. As you can see, our orange was ginormous. That's a regular-sized Starlight Mint, for reference. If you only have regular-sized oranges, you may want to use two of them.

At this point, sprinkle 1/2 Cup of Flour over your rum-soaked fruits and nuts, stirring to mix well. Add the remaining 1 and 1/2 Cups of Flour to the Sugar/Butter/Egg mixture, and mix until the batter becomes relatively smooth. This will be a very stiff batter.

Having stirred the 1/2 cup of flour into your fruits and nuts (this keeps them from sinking to the bottom of your cake), add the fruit/nut/flour mixture to your batter. As I said before, the batter will be very stiff. Be sure to use a strong wooden or metal spoon for this -- a few seconds after his picture was taken, my spatula snapped in half.

Once you're satisfied that things are well-mixed, pour your batter into a loaf pan that has been lined with parchment paper and then greased with 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil or Butter. You may have a little extra -- if so, pour them into greased cupcake molds.

Bake the cake for an hour-and-a-half at 350 degrees, checking it after an hour. When a cake tester (or a butter knife) can be pushed into the center of the cake and it comes out clean, it's done. Remove the cake from the oven. Let it rest for 15 minutes in the pan, then lift it out by the parchment paper and place it on a cooling rack. While it's still warm, pour 3/4 cup of Dark Rum over the top of the cake. It will soak it in pretty quickly. After 2 hours, wrap the cake tightly in plastic wrap and store it somewhere cool.

From here, it's just a matter of maintenance. Depending on when you plan to serve it, you can continue to baste this cake for days, or even weeks. The best way to do this is to coat the entirety of the cake (be sure to flip it over and get the bottom) each day with the use of a pastry brush and a bowl of more Dark Rum. While this little baby can take in a whole lot of booze, be sure to use some restraint -- eventually, both the flavor and the structural integrity of the cake will begin to faulter. After each basting, let the cake sit out for 1 hour, then wrap it back up tightly.

When the day of your party comes, slice and serve! The final product:

This is a truly grand way to end a Holiday feast. Unlike the "rock-hard" fruitcakes that live on in endless jokes, this is a moist, flavorful, nuanced creation, a mature, sweet, and lush finale for your dinner party. I would serve it with big dollops of just-sweetened freshly whipped cream and demitasse cups of espresso ristretto. This may seem like a big project -- and it is -- but it's worth it. Take the challenge on.

We'll actually return with a special Bonus post on Wednesday, December 23rd -- a last-minute cookie recipe, and just the thing to leave out for Santa. Be sure to come back then!

Music: Eraserheads -- "Fruitcake"


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